Papernut Cambridge – interview
Papernut Cambridge have just released their fantastic new album, Outstairs Instairs. Just who are Papernut Cambridge and why must you dig them? Papernut Cambridge are a band/collective led by Ian Button, formerly of Thrashing Doves and Death in Vegas. Their new album features their usual mixture of the flippant and the heartfelt, with topics that cover self-doubt in love, tour-induced agoraphobia and stealing a dog from Battersea Dogs’ Home. The brand new record Outsairs Instairs is cut in a peculiar way that plays the vinyl from the centre outwards on one side of the vinyl. It will take you on a journey of mortality, spirituality, stoicism, introspection….and they even throw in a bit of psych-boogie-woogie. Chief Papernut Ian Button also produced Mozart’s Mini-Mart, the new album by former Felt frontman, Lawrence’s current band, Go-Kart Mozart. LTW caught up with him for a chat. (Papernut Cambridge pictured L-R: Jack Hayter, Terry Miles, Darren Hayman, Ian Button, Ralegh Long, Robert Halcrow, Emma Winston, Robert Rotifer).
This album seems to have less of the power-pop summery feel of your last album, Love the Things Your Lover Loves. Was this a deliberate move?
I suppose it’s less upbeat in a way. Lower key maybe…..in the end it was dictated by what I thought worked and fitted song-wise, and it ended up with quite a lot of slow, maybe more understated pop songs. There’s actually a couple more quite upbeat tracks I left off, which might roll over to the next album I guess! The summery thing though…..it’s still meant to be summery …for me that was deliberate….I was finishing off writing and recording it last summer, and wanted it to come out this summer. For me, making it, there was definitely that feeling.
Your late father’s passing in 2016 had some influence also…tell us more
Quite a lot of side two is to do with my dad. Not so much in a kind of grief-analysis way, I didn’t want it to come out like that. More like it’s inspired by him – fragments of things he said, or dreamt or imagined. Mr Shimshiner was just a name he came up with…like ‘laughing boy’ or ‘sonny Jim’…it became a kind of nonsense tongue-twister about someone getting injured at work in a shipyard … that one isn’t supposed to be directly about my dad’s illness……but there is the fantasy idea that Mr S might have been the man who built the ship he ended up on at the end of WW2.
With Angelo Aggy it started from a few lines of a song my dad started singing one day, about finding a home for a lost little dog. My sister and I had no idea where it came from – our dad was 95 had a lot of memories it could have been a part of…or he could have just made it up! Anyway, I decided to try and write it into a bit of a singalong about falling in love with a dog in Battersea Dogs’ Home and being so overcome with compassion that you steal it. Again I didn’t really realise until it was finished that it’s about wanting to save someone.
I’ve joked about the album being spiritual in some way – I mean, I’m not religious, but New Forever takes the sweet idea that in some other life people meet up again – from the angle that St Peter is a kind of overworked civil servant trying to organise it all for everyone.
The new single from the album, Buckminster Fullerene
Would you call Papernut Cambridge a band or a collective?
It’s like the best of both worlds, or even three worlds I suppose. Yes it can be, or appear like, a band – on record or at a gig. It can be a collective in the sense that there isn’t a set membership or personnel. Not everyone is on every track or at every show. And another angle to see it from is that it’s a solo project led by me, with a name that can cover any incarnation. It means it still works for there to be the ‘band’ albums and songs, as well as, say, the Mellotron instrumental stuff that’s just me working on my own.
How easy or difficult is it to get a bunch of musicians like yourselves together in one place to record and tour, given that members are involved in other projects and solo careers?
Yes, everyone has or fronts their own project: usually more than one. It means I can’t expect to call on anyone to be available at any given moment, and PC has to be a flexible project in that sense. In practice, that very fact has shaped how the records turn out. For lots of the recording it’s easy because it’s done remotely. I send a couple of skeletons of songs out my friends and wait…they each record their own parts and send them back when they can. We do have studio days sometimes, when we need to do drums, let’s say, or gang vocals….. then it’s a case of whoever can make it, they are on the track, and they’ve co-written it. Darren (Hayman, solo artiste and formerly of Hefner) always quotes Ted Bovis from Hi-Di-Hi……”First rule of comedy, Spike…turn up!”
The piano-led sound of a lot of this album came about because some downtime became available at short notice at a friend’s studio. I grabbed it, then had to decide what to do there. They have a lovely grand piano, so I called Terry (Miles) and Emma (Winston) who happened to be around that day, and they just blasted a load of beautiful piano onto five tracks in an afternoon, which basically changed the whole direction of the album.
What was it like working with Lawrence in Go-Kart Mozart? Have you known him for a while?
I think I must have met Lawrence first about 12 years ago maybe, through Terry (Miles), who I’d known for years from us both playing in Death In Vegas. The involvement started when I began to help Terry with some programming and production on his old Cubase setup. I played a bit of guitar for the On The Hot Dog Streets album, then for the Mozart’s Mini-Mart album I ended up doing lots more playing, programming, backing vocals etc, and basically producing and mixing the whole thing with Lawrence, and co-writing on some songs too, like When You’re Depressed.
It’s been a really inspiring project for me – watching the way Lawrence & Terry and the other contributors work together…constructing all that bright, detailed pop music, humour and horror combined. Lawrence has this laser-specific eye/ear for what should and shouldn’t be there. No spare bits. Some tracks took quite some time to be ‘distilled’ into that state – revisiting and revising. We ended up recording a lot of it (vocals etc) at my house, just relaxed and easy. He and my dad got to know each other pretty well actually.
One of the Papernuts has also worked with Twink. I met a guy who works in a record shop in Camden Market recently who’s in Twink’s band. I thought I’d just throw that one in!
In fact the Twink/Bare Nodes band was made up of a few Papernut contributors: Robert Halcrow on bass, Robert Rotifer and David Woolf on guitars, me on drums. And yes, your man with the record shop is Fabio from The Lysergics! He did a couple of shows with us in that line-up, but The Lysergics themselves have backed Twink a lot.
The Bare Nodes was a band that Sterling Roswell put together with us for his monthly psych night in Soho last summer. The first show we just played seat-of-the-pants covers. Then Rosco said “Oh I’ve got Twink coming over for the next one, maybe we can back him” – so we did a Twink show there, and a little later we were his band at the Kaleidoscope show for the 50th anniversary of their Tangerine Dream album. There are also some recordings we did with that line-up, which will hopefully see the light of day one day.
I hope so! You’ve revisited a Thrashing Doves demo, for one of bonus cuts for your new album. How did that come about?
It’s actually a song from when we were still called The Climb, and were just on the brink of morphing into what would become Thrashing Doves. We’d been though quite a lot as The Climb – great management, some singles, loads of demos, touring, seeming close to getting signed etc. Then in 1984 we decided to change into something new – we swapped instruments – I moved from bass to guitar, we started using basic sequencers (onboard in synths) and drum machines – and we did some 4-track home recordings that were a kind of mix of pastoral guitar pop and electronics. It wasn’t really much like what the band became later, but I’ve always loved hearing the old tapes of it. It seemed like a bit of a magical period, and this was my favourite song – The Hobbledehoy – it’s another real evocation of summertime for me – because of what it’s about, and the memories of when we made it. And I think it’s one of the best guitar hooks I’ve ever come up with!
Tell us about “the lost album” from 1994, which is also included in the deluxe edition of the new record.
In between the end of Thrashing Doves (and its later incarnations), and the start of Death In Vegas, I started writing and recording with my own projects for the first time. I had a band called Motorcyclone for a while, and later Ashley Flowers, which was a project briefly signed to Almo Sounds (Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss’ post-A&M label). I made an album called Home Cooking – songs which were intended to be the Ashley Flowers album, but the deal didn’t last long enough for that to happen, and I decided to press up CDs of it (as an Anthony Anderson Project album) after the Almo deal ended. I found a box of them last year that I didn’t know I still had, so I decided to include them in the CD box set with the new album.
The Motorcyclone album exists too, on CD..but it’s not exactly ‘lost’…I know I have plenty of boxes in the loft!!
How easy or hard is it running your own label, Gare Du Nord Records? Do you think the recent resurgence in vinyl has made it more difficult running a small label, or has it helped?
I’ve talked a bit about the ins and outs of the label in a couple of recent interviews, and the point I make is that it’s fairly easy because we are not trying to run it like a commercial venture. It’s just a bunch of interconnected people doing self releases with varying degrees of ambition and resources… It’s great fun. And actually the vinyl resurgence is a major factor in why we are doing it. With vinyl (or CD/tape for that matter) there is a real sense of tangibility and value in the thing, the artefact you’re buying. With digital it’s a matter of debate what the music is worth: yes you can buy downloads but you can also hear it for nothing if you want to. With physical there’s a going rate for what you can charge for an LP or CD, that people accept, or can’t argue with. Like buying a pint of lager. They are paying for the plastic and the sleeve and it feels ok. Whether your album cost a million pounds to make, or a hundred pounds – and that’s really YOUR choice, as the artist – everyone’s record, CD or tape costs (roughly) the same to buy. It’s a leveller in that sense. And for a small autonomous artist the economics can potentially work out OK, even though we are manufacturing in the smallest numbers and at the least economical unit cost. Not everyone on GDN does vinyl, but I think for all of us, having a physical item for sale is the only surefire way of getting a reasonable, measurable amount of your investment back – and proving you exist.
Thank you, Ian. Any gigs to plug?
There’s not really any Papernut band gigs, but I’m doing a 10 minute solo/duo slot with Robert Rotifer at the Country Soul Sessions on July 1st. After that just two planned acoustic shows on a bill with Trevor Burton and Jack Hayter – Birmingham and Stafford September 28th and 29th
Outside Papernut Cambridge, over the summer I’ve got some gigs/festivals drumming for Darren Hayman, Mikey Collins, Picturebox etc
Recording wise I’ve just finished the second volume of Mellotron library music tracks that will be out later this year, plus we’ve started work on Volume 2 of Nutlets, the next Papernut covers album.
All words by Arash Torabi. More writing by Arash can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.